What Can Cause Shooting Pain in the Lower Back?

Reviewed on 12/2/2022
Man with back pain pointing to his back while doctor inspects
Lower back pain is usually caused by an abnormality in the way the parts of the spine, muscles, discs, and back nerves fit together and move.

Shooting pain in the lower back is a common problem and it can often affect a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks. 

There are many causes of shooting pain in the lower back. Most of the time, lower back pain is a result of a disruption in the way the parts of the back (the spine, muscles, discs, and nerves) fit together and move. 

Causes of shooting pain in the lower back include:

Serious causes of shooting pain in the lower back include:

What Are Symptoms of Shooting Pain in the Lower Back?

Symptoms that may accompany shooting pain in the lower back may include:

  • Pain radiating in the buttocks, hips, and down through the legs
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Weakness
  • Incontinence

See a doctor if you have signs and symptoms along with lower back pain that may indicate serious conditions such as: 

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
    • A rare, serious medical condition
    • Lower back pain that may also spread to the groin, pelvis, and/or legs
    • Severe, continuous, stabbing pain felt deep in the abdomen between the breastbone in the center of the chest and the belly button
    • A pulsating mass in the abdomen, which may be felt through the skin and is sensitive to touch.
    • Pain in back associated with a weakness or numbness of one or both legs
    • Sudden and rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, clammy skin and cold sweats, general weakness, confusion, anxiety, and/or loss of consciousness, indicating shock
  • Cauda equina syndrome
    • Can result in severe impairments in the lower back and leg(s)
    • Difficulty or inability to control bowel movements 
    • Urinary retention or incontinence 
    • Numbness in the groin, buttocks, genitals, and/or inner thighs (“saddle numbness”) 
    • Sexual dysfunction 
  • Spinal tumor
    • Persistent pain even with rest and medication
    • Fever and chills
    • Night sweats
    • Progressive or sudden motor weakness in the leg(s)
    • Unexplained weight loss
  • Spinal infection
    • Fever and chills
    • Pain worsens at night
    • Swelling, warmth, and redness around the site of infection
    • Unexplained weight loss
  • Acute trauma
    • Leg pain and numbness
    • Inability to lift the foot (foot drop)
    • Complete loss of sensation in one or both legs indicating paralysis

How Is Shooting Pain in the Lower Back Diagnosed?

The cause of shooting pain in the lower back is diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination of the back. The physical examination may also include range of motion tests to check mobility as well as a neurological examination to check muscle strength, skin sensation, reflexes, and cranial nerves.

Additional tests used to diagnose the cause of shooting pain in the lower back may include: 

  • Imaging tests
  • Electrodiagnostic tests
    • Electromyography (EMG
    • Nerve conduction studies 
    • Somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEP) if spinal cord dysfunction is suspected
  • Diagnostic injections to help pinpoint specific anatomical structures as the pain source

What Is the Treatment for Shooting Pain in the Lower Back?

It is important to see a doctor for a diagnosis of the cause of shooting pain in the lower back in order to receive proper treatment. 

Home treatment to relieve shooting pain in the lower back may include:  

  • Gentle stretching
  • Bed rest for 1 to 2 days at most — activities should be resumed as soon as possible
  • Cold and hot compresses 
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to reduce pain and discomfort 
  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture

Movement can be effective for relieving shooting pain in the lower back, and strengthening back, abdominal, and leg muscles may help prevent shooting lower back pain from recurring. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist before performing exercises for lower back pain. Depending on the cause of the lower back pain, some exercises may not be recommended.  If any exercises worsen the pain or cause new pain, stop and contact your doctor. 

If conservative home treatments and exercises are not effective in relieving shooting pain in the lower back, medical treatments may include: 

  • Spinal manipulation and spinal mobilization such as chiropractic 
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Prescription medicines
  • Spinal injections
  • Implanted nerve stimulators 
  • Surgery in severe cases

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Reviewed on 12/2/2022
Image source: iStock Images